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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Forbidden Fruit (Part 4: More Svara)

We left off the previous post with the difficult problem of making sense of the הלכה למשה מסיני that only fruit that is definitely ערלה is prohibited, but fruit about which one is uncertain is permitted.  Therefore, even an unreasonable doubt will prevent the fruit from being prohibited.

The difficulty is that our knowledge about the fruit shouldn't play a role in determining whether the fruit is ערלה or not.  Our knowledge, or lack thereof, should determine our actions regarding the fruit, but it should not play an integral role in defining the fruit itself.

It would seem that to answer this question we have to look at the הלכה למשה מסיני in a new light.  It is true that normally a prohibited food is defined based upon its objective characteristics, and as such a person's knowledge is something extraneous to the fruit itself.  However the הלכה למשה מסיני here has a unique formulation that enables the person's uncertainty to play an essential role in defining the fruit.

The entity that the הלכה למשה מסיני prohibits is the entity as it is subjectively perceived by the person.  The object of the prohibition is not the objective entity, but is rather fruit as a subjective phenomenon of human perception.

The observer's knowledge is extraneous to the fruit as a thing in itself.  It is the same objective fruit, whether or not you are certain or uncertain about it.  However, as an object of subjective perception, uncertainty plays an essential role in distinguishing between two objects.  There is an essential difference between the perceived object of certain ערלה (fruit definitely within the first three years), and an object that is perceived as uncertain ערלה.  They are two qualitatively different objects relative to a person's idea of them.  Knowledge about an object (certainty and uncertainty) is extraneous to the object in itself, but is essential to the subjective object of perception.  The הלכה למשה מסיני only prohibits that which you perceive as certain ערלה.

We can understand what compelled the הלכה למשה מסיני to use such a unique formulation of the prohibition outside the land of Israel.  Since there is no inherent holiness in the land, none of the general agricultural laws and entities can exist in their usual manner, as they are generated by the unique status of the land of Israel.  The הלכה למשה מסיני used a definition of the fruit that isn't based upon its objective status, but is based upon the person's subjective perception of it.

This idea also explains why you are allowed to give your friend fruit which you know with certainty is ערלה.  If the fruit in itself was prohibited, you would not be able to give it to him, even if he didn't know at all what it was.  You still know that it is objectively prohibited, and would be prohibited from giving it to him.  However, here the entity that is prohibited is the subjective phenomenon of definite ערלה.  The entity as it exists relative to you is not the same as it exists relative to him.  You perceive it as definite ערלה, but he perceives it as uncertain ערלה.  It is one objective entity, but two different subjective entities.

(We realize that the distinction between the object in itself, and the subjective perception of the entity is a bit abstract.  There is a similarity between the formulation of this הלכה למשה מסיני and the famous distinction made by the philosopher Immanuel Kant between the noumenon (thing-in-itself) and the phenomenon (thing-perceived).  They are not identical distinctions, but seeing a slightly different application might help you grasp the concept.)


  1. I see you started a new post.Did i miss something: you didn't explain how the rabanan formulated the issur orla in suria, unless it's the same as shar artzos?

    1. Suria has two frameworks of issur.

      1) The הלכה למשה מסיני which is identical to all other lands outside Israel

      2) A Rabbinic prohibition that mirrors that of Israel. It is from this second side that the stringency of Suria over all other lands comes from.

  2. So the rabanan made a quasi-kedushas haaretz in suria so that the case with the fruit in the vineyard would be assur? The rabanan just extended it because suria in general has the chumros of eretz yisroel. Shouldn't there be a unique halachik structure for suria that encompasses the halacha lmoshe msinai and the drabanan which mirrors eretz yisroel?

    That's what I was trying to offer when I said that suria is a spin off from the idea of 'subjectivity' from a different angle.

    1. The intrinsic halacha of orlah has 2 categories: Eretz Yisrael and Chutz la'aretz (see Rambam 10:10). The halacha of suria is an outcome of a general halacha that suria is treated like eretz yisrael mi'derabanan (see Rambam terumos 1:4 for instance). Since this is mi'derabanan, the rule of safek derabanan lekula applies to it, whereas in eretz yisrael we say safek de'oraysa lechumra.

      The HLM and the derabanan are independent and come from independent sources.

    2. That is exactly where my thinking was led astray. I guess sometimes it's all about getting the facts down precisely clear...


  3. I want to make sure I understood this correctly. In Israel, the objective status of the fruit is what the halacha hinges on. Safek is seemingly just a matter of awareness of this objective status. If we are not sure of the objective status of the orlah, then it is mutar. If, however, we are not in doubt but simply lack complete certainty, our awareness of the objective status has not been altered. As long as we are not in doubt, we are still cognizant of the fact that this fruit is a fruit of orlah and thus the lack of vadai does not qualify as safek for within Israel.

    In chus la'ares, the halacha seemingly hinges on the subjective status of the fruit. Now, it is necessary to have the subjective experience of eating an orlah fruit. As long as there is any, even minute, lack in certainty, that subjective experience is no longer of 'eating an orlah fruit' but has become 'eating an uncertain orlah fruit.' Since the HLM is dependent on the subjective experience of 'eating an orlah fruit,' this qualifies as a safek and it is mutar.

    It is mostly that last step that I am most unsure of.

    1. Your first paragraph is formulated very well. However, we assume you mean Suria instead of Israel. In Israel, Orlah is min ha'Torah and therefore even a real safek is assur.

      Regarding your second paragraph, you got the basic point. However, we are not formulating it in terms of the subjective experience of eating fruit (though this is a possible route), but the subjective perception of the object as "certain orlah". The object of issur is that which is perceived as certain orlah. As long as there is some doubt, it is not this object. We think this is a smoother formulation.


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